Supporting British industry, eh? Not so much, actually
Overall, then, most of the gear is necessary and popular. Refreshingly, the MoD seems also to be breaking with tradition and simply purchasing stuff from the firms best able to supply it rather than trying to use the buy to subsidise UK industry. Despite minister Quentin Davies' assertion at DSEi that the FIST cash will "support the British defence industrial base", actually it seems that at least half the money will go to overseas firms.
The grenade fire-control gadgets and the commanders' target-marking binos (two of the most expensive systems) are to come from Switzerland, for example. Swiss provider Vectronix say they'll be making 92 million francs on the deal, about £53m - more than a third of the total spend, and that's without allowing for prime contractor Thales' cut off the top. The new day-sights, another pricy piece of kit, will come from Canada and the periscopes from Israel. The only substantial UK buy is the thermal sights, from Qioptiq.
There are really only a few criticisms one could offer here. One is the too-heavy grenade firecontrol system, and even that, we're told, would be useful for training grenadiers until they learn to shoot without it. Another is the fact that none of the new gear will actually reach the field until 2011. The MoD says that this is to allow time for training, but given that a lot of the gear is either in-service already in limited numbers or is very simple to use, this still seems slow.
Finally, only a quite limited amount of gear is being bought - enough to kit out 95 companies of troops. The army, marines and RAF "rock ape" ground units together have at least 125 rifle companies or equivalent and can generate 30 or 40 more in some circumstances**.
All the same, it seems like a welcome change from the usual realities of British kit procurement, and all the more impressive in that this is core-budget funding rather than special war supplements.
Apparently there's to be another buy of similar magnitude for comms gear within a few months. Let's hope there isn't a sudden return to business as usual. ®
*Sighting Unit Small Arms Trilux
**As when a battalion converts its Support (heavy weapons) company into a rifle company for counter-insurgency duties, for instance. Admittedly this is much less common nowadays with the shift from Northern Ireland to Afghanistan.